Fighting latency in next-gen games – European Gaming Industry News

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Mathieu Duperré, CEO of Edgegap

Anyone who has played a video game online has certainly encountered lag and connectivity issues. Despite huge advances in infrastructure over the past few decades, latency remains a constant thorn in the side of gamers and detracts from the real-time experience expected today.

Delivering a consistent experience for gamers playing on different devices with varying connection speeds – many of which are thousands of miles apart – is a complex challenge. Very popular online games like Roblox and Fortnite are just two of many games that have benefited from years of infrastructure investment in order to support millions of concurrent players. As the table below from SuperJoost shows, multiplayer and online games are becoming the preferred way to play games among the most active gaming demographics, with all the technical challenges that this creates.

Games that can be played seamlessly across mobile, PC, and console (known as cross-play) are also pushing the limits of what current internet infrastructure can offer. Throw in a new generation of streaming online game services like Stadia, Blacknut Games and Amazon’s Luna – along with Microsoft’s Game Pass and Sony’s revamped PlayStation Plus service, and you can see how the promise of quality performance console over a broadband connection may overload networks that were never designed for this level of play.

So how can gaming companies, telcos, and ISPs deliver on the performance promises made to gamers? This is where edge computing comes in.

Lag, latency and edge

When talking about latency, it’s important to clarify exactly what we mean. Latency refers to the time it takes for game data to move from point to point. From the player’s perspective, it’s the delay between its command and its in-game fulfillment. their destination.

To use an extreme example, NASA’s Voyager 1 has so far traveled about 14.5 billion kilometers away from our planet, and it takes about 19 hours for its radio waves to reach us. Here on Earth, your latency is (hopefully) measured in milliseconds rather than hours; and gamers need about 30ms for optimal performance. Anywhere above 100ms can result in noticeable lag and a frustrating experience.

This is where edge computing comes in. As the name suggests, edge computing brings computing and data storage closer to data sources, placing it at the edge of the network where the performance gain is greatest. As you’d expect, the reduction in unnecessary travel greatly speeds up the process, providing an almost lag-free experience.

More players equals more chance of latency being an issue

In the early days of the game, local couch play was an integral part of the gaming experience. Today, a game where hundreds or even thousands of players are in the same session is nothing out of the ordinary, and there are now Battle Royale games, a whole genre of games where a hundred or more players are reduced to a single winner.

The sheer scale of some online games dwarfs many of the more popular streaming services. While Netflix remains the top-performing streaming video site with 222 million subscribers, the kids’ game Roblox has 230 million active accounts and Fortnite has over 350 million registered players. So if we assume that these games reflect a growing trend, the demand on server networks will only increase and game companies will have to look for more innovative solutions to keep meeting the demand.

Cross-platform

The ability for players on different devices and platforms to play and compete together is becoming an increasingly common feature of AAA multiplayer games like Apex Legends, Fortnite and Call of Duty. EA Sports recently confirmed that FIFA 23 will join other heavyweights in exploring cross-platform play. Considering the large amount of games in the market and the different game modes for each game, studios are considering cross-play to increase the number of players who can play together. One of the main drivers is to reduce matchmaking time and prevent players from having to wait hours before their opponents are ready to play with them.

From a latency perspective, different infrastructure on platforms means delays and downtime are much more likely. When it comes to cross-play, studios can’t use P2P (peer-to-peer) because console vendors don’t support direct communication (i.e. an Xbox can’t not communicate directly with a playstation). In addition, P2P can be limited by the player’s home network (restrictive natting for example). This is why studios typically use relays in a handful of centralized locations. Relays are considered cheaper than authoritative servers. They have some big flaws though, like making it harder for studios to prevent cheating, which is becoming increasingly important with Web3 and NFT. This leads to higher latency since traffic has to travel longer distances between players. For example, when Apex Legends went cross-platform, players were inundated with framerate drops, lags, and glitches.

Edge computing allows studios to deploy cross-play games closer to their players, dramatically reducing latency. Which can negate some of the lagging issues around different platforms.

Virtual reality and the metaverse

Although it hit the shelves in 2016, virtual reality is only slowly making its way into mainstream gaming. Advances in technology have gradually improved the user experience, while lowering the price of hardware and bringing it closer to the mass market – not to mention the metaverse that is drawing renewed attention to technology. But latency issues are still a serious impediment to wider adoption unless addressed.

Latency has a much greater impact on the player experience in VR than in traditional games, as it completely disrupts the intended immersive experience. A 2020 research paper found that latency over 30-35ms in VR had a significant impact on player enjoyment and immersion, which was well below acceptable margins on a controller. But when it comes to the Metaverse, achieving that might not be enough. The latency between the headset and the player should be less than 5ms to avoid motion sickness.

In a recent blog post, Meta VP Dan Rabinovitsj explained that cloud-based video games require latency around 75-150ms, while some graphics-intensive AAA video games require less than 35ms. ms. By comparison, Rabinovitsj suggests that metaverse apps should reduce latency to a low double or even single digit.

For better or worse, we’ve already gotten a glimpse of what the Metaverse has to offer. Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week gave major brands like Dolce & Gabbana the opportunity to showcase virtual versions of their products. But journalists present reported that the event was fraught with pitfalls and problems.

Gamers are a volatile bunch, so early adopters will simply switch back to other games and platforms if they have bad initial experiences. Google’s Stadia promised to revolutionize gaming, but its fate was sealed at launch because the platform simply couldn’t match the latency of its competitors. Today, Google has “deprioritized” the platform in favor of other projects.

If the Metaverse goes as planned, it should encompass much more than traditional gaming experiences. But if it’s going to live up to high gamer expectations, like Loan player onemore thought needs to be given to a scalable and optimized infrastructure.

Unlock next-gen play

The pace at which modern gaming evolves is staggering, making the components discussed here work lag-free and, as gamers expect, it will be a huge undertaking, and even more so when the developers try to bring them all together in the metaverse.

The issue of latency may make less headlines than virtual fashion shows, NFTs, and Mark Zuckerberg’s slightly unsettling promotional video, but the ability to seamlessly stitch all of these together will be essential for the Metaverse to be at its best. up to expectations, and therefore, to its success.

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